changed, and instructional strategies have often failed to keep pace. A National Research Council study on developments in the science of learning (National Research Council, 1999) notes that “functional literacy,” which at the turn of the century referred to decoding simple or easily interpreted text, now is a measure of reading for information and analyzing and interpreting complex ideas. The new emphasis has vastly increased both the range and depth of knowledge expected of even young children, placing pressure on teachers and parents to pay more attention both to children’s capacity to learn new information and to the conditions under which they learn.
The knowledge and skills of teachers are among the most important factors in determining how much a young child learns. Studies in Texas, Alabama, and New York of K-12 teachers concluded that “teachers’ qualifications (based on measures of knowledge, education, and experience) account for a larger share of the variance in students’ achievement than any other single factor” (Darling-Hammond et al., 1999:228). What early childhood teachers know and are able to do is one of the major influences on the learning and development of young children. Clearly, the preparation and ongoing professional development of teachers in early childhood education and care is fundamental to the vision expressed in this report.
In this chapter, we discuss professional development and its relationship to program quality, the preparation of early childhood teachers, the variety of teacher education experiences and requirements, and research related to in-service education. Much of the literature reviewed here draws from the body of research on teacher development more generally. While the content of teacher knowledge and the nature of the responsiveness of teachers to their students distinguishes the preparation required of preschool teachers, in many respects their professional development is similar to that of teachers of older children. The principles of learning discussed in Chapter 5 (engaging and building on existing understandings, providing a deep foundation of factual knowledge within a conceptual framework, and stressing metacognition) must be effectively understood and deployed by all teachers, and the efforts to teach teachers at all levels must also incorporate those principles.